The Righteous Persons Foundation – the foundation established by Steven Spielberg to help bridge divides between people of different backgrounds; galvanize the power of the arts, media, and storytelling; preserve Jewish history and traditions and make them accessible for generations to come; build on the Jewish value of justice to inspire social activism; and ensure that the moral lessons of the Holocaust are not forgotten – has announced nine new grants.
Strengthening Moral Voices
“Messaging Toward a New America”
Who are the Martin Luther Kings and the Abraham Joshua Heschels of our day? And how do we ensure their voices and messages reach and move Americans? These questions are at the heart of Auburn, a 200-year-old institution dedicated to helping multi-faith clergy and activists develop the leadership skills needed to build a more just America. Today this work is urgent. With communities increasingly divided, religious leaders are uniquely positioned to provide guidance that speaks not to our political affiliation but to our deepest values and higher selves. To meet the moment, Auburn will both draw upon the organization’s own expertise as well as partner with top researchers, pollsters, and thinkers working at the intersection of religion, politics, and culture. The goal: to identify which messages about freedom, justice, and equality (and other shared values) have the most power to galvanize Americans across fault lines. Their learnings will be informed and disseminated by their national network of tens of thousands of faith-based activists, along with Auburn’s Senior Fellows.
Church World Service
From the Travel Ban to the end of DACA, 2017 left refugees and immigrants, already among the most vulnerable in our society, more vulnerable still. One silver lining: congregations across the country stood up and offered to provide safe haven to undocumented people under threat of deportation, doubling the size of the Sanctuary Movement. Church World Service (CWS), a faith-based organization founded after WWII to aid those in need that includes members such as the Episcopal Church and the Alliance of Baptists, played an integral role. CWS convenes congregations around immigration, trains Sanctuary Movement members, and conducts outreach to new communities and clergy. Support from RPF will help CWS hold trainings for Sanctuary Congregations and engage more faith communities such as synagogues and mosques in this work.
The People’s Supper
Inspired by the notion that food allows the soul to grow, The People’s Supper – a two-year initiative powered by three nonprofits that joined forces to combat partisanship in the wake of the November 2016 election – brings together people who differ (politically, religiously, racially, culturally, and generationally) for a meaningful conversation over dinner. Its methodology? Ask people about their stories, not their politics. RPF funding will support large-scale suppers for conservative and liberal participants in locations across the country and fund a media project designed to capture and share the diverse stories of The People’s Supper participants.
When StoryCorps released Who We Are, a 12-episode series of animated shorts funded by RPF in 2016, the project garnered more than 40 million views online. Today, the media organization is working to increase its impact by reaching an even larger and more diverse audience with its empathy-producing content. As part of this effort, StoryCorps is studying which themes and stories resonate best in different parts of the U.S. It is also launching a new initiative to engage liberal and conservative listeners in conversation, working with tech partners to develop tools to facilitate virtual connections (such as mobile recording booths wired for conferencing), and pursuing new platforms for large-scale distribution. Support from RPF will enable StoryCorps to take these steps in support of its larger goal: using storytelling to reveal the shared humanity of people who are different.
The Secret Life of Muslims, Season Two
From Jewish filmmaker Joshua Seftel, The Secret Life of Muslims is an Emmy- and Peabody-nominated series of short first-person films that use humor and empathy to dispell stereotypes about Muslim Americans. The first season featured the likes of author Reza Aslan, Olympic fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad, comedian Ahmed Ahmed, and NYPD Chaplain Khalid Latif sharing personal stories about their lives – and garnered 35 million views. With its second season, the multi-faith production is looking to shine an even brighter light on this diverse community of Americans.
Bend the Arc
Social Activist Training
Bend the Arc draws on the long and important tradition of American Jewish action, training Jewish activists and leaders throughout the country and advocating for policies that are fair and just. As the demand for activism has grown (in the 12 months following the November 2016 election, more than 90,000 people engaged with the organization), so has the need to train people in how to stand up for one’s values in ways that are both effective and safe. The importance of safety became even more evident after Charlottesville, and since then Bend the Arc has begun training its members in the technique of non-violent resistance. With support from RPF, Bend the Arc will continue these trainings and also build on its work with Jews of color, ensuring that these activists can work within a larger Jewish social justice movement committed to fighting both racism and anti-Semitism.
Political Research Associates
Anti-Semitism Research and Agenda
For 35 years Political Research Associates (PRA) has studied organized bigotry and right-wing populist movements in order to strengthen the work of social justice leaders and defend human rights. In doing so, PRA has found that the importance of anti-Semitism in the present moment is not widely recognized among the current generation of civil rights leaders. The organization seeks to change that by facilitating a community of learning and practice made up of key Jewish and non-Jewish racial justice leaders, scholars, and experts that will establish an anti-Semitism agenda for PRA and others. One outcome will be the continued publication of PRA-distributed articles like Eric K. Ward’s widely-circulated Skin In the Game: How Antisemitism Animates White Nationalism. In it Ward, who is himself African American and a fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center, writes, “If we acknowledge that White nationalism clearly and forcefully names Jews as non-white, and did so in the very fiber of its emergence as a post-civil rights right-wing revolutionary movement, then we are forced to recognize our own ignorance about the country we thought we lived in. It is time to have that conversation.”
And, Because the Road to Justice is Long and Winding, Sustenance for the Journey
OneTable is dedicated to spreading the practice of Shabbat by making it easy for millennials to host dinners that are welcoming, highly personal, and inspire sustained ritual. In under three years the organization has brought more than 55,000 young adults together around the dinner table. Post Charlottesville, the organization worked with over 70 Jewish community partners to convene hundreds of dinners where people of different backgrounds gathered to discuss questions like, After Charlottesville, how will you respond with joy, love and action? What do you need from the people around you? What will you give of yourself? With support from RPF, OneTable will produce and disseminate Shabbat resources such as guides to non-traditional takes on ritual and weekly inspiration based on Jewish texts and teachings that feel relevant today.
Reboot is a network of creatives, activists, and entrepreneurs working to reinvigorate Jewish life by making the old new and the new inviting and meaningful. Reboot continues to leverage the creativity of its more than 500 members while working with nearly 1,000 community partners to engage hundreds of thousands of people in Reboot programming every year. This grant continues RPF’s support of the organization as it welcomes new participants, develops its project pipeline, embarks on a new strategic business plan, and expands signature programs including 10Q, a High Holiday-inspired initiative designed to spark reflection.